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Bridges/Exploration Academy

The partnership between Western and two local school districts, Danbury and Bethel, to ensure that high school students are ready for college-level courses in math, writing and science, built on its remarkable success with a move into middle schools.

The organizers of “Building a Bridge to Improve Student Success,” commonly referred to as “Bridges,” kicked off the Exploration Academy to bring middle school students onto campus. It’s a recognition that successful preparation for college can begin long before the latter years of high school, especially for students from poor families or other at-risk situations. The effort also is meant to benefit girls who have the aptitude for math and science but are steered away from those fields at a young age.

Participating students studied meteorology by competing in teams of Cyclones, Hurricanes, Snowstorms or Thunderstorms to create their own videotaped weather forecasts; plumbed the depths of pond water; gained understanding of the human body; and discovered how cells move.

At the same time, high school students and WCSU first-year students who were exposed to Bridges continued to excel. Only 6 percent of students beginning at Western in 2009 were required to take the remedial writing class, and 29 percent were enrolled in the math class. That compares to 37 percent in writing and 41 percent for math before Bridges began in the 2004-05 school year.

At the same time, Western hosted its first Young Writers Camp for middle and high school students who practiced fiction, poetry, journalism, memoir and songwriting and worked on their college admission essays.

The success and expansion of Bridges have attracted support from the corporate sector. Praxair, Inc., of Danbury, made a gift of $50,000 to support the program.

“By establishing a framework for effective collaboration between our high schools and the college, Western’s Bridge program creates a positive ripple effect throughout our community,” said Nigel Muir, president of the Praxair Foundation. “The program’s measurable success in helping more Danbury-area students enjoy a successful college career is an investment in our future.”

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Clockwise from top:
Middle schoolers proudly display their "Science Rocks" T-shirts; students get hands-on experience; Western students visited Bethel and Danbury schools to serve as tutors as part of the Bridges program; a student learns the art of observation.